There’s a lot of evidence that this really isn’t true as often as it is false. Chains, by their very nature, can offer their food less expensively than an independent. They have buying power that one restaurant can’t have. Independents pay more per pound for meat, seafood, produce than corporations. To too many people today, the price is the most important factor. Mom and Pops get forced out of business even if their product is special, even if its superior because it’s too expensive. That’s a part of my "chain-hate".
My bigger "chain hate" (although I’m not a pure hater) is that consistency always outweighs quality in a multi-location operation. That’s why the food at most chains is consistently mediocre. It’s better to be consistently mediocre than for one location with a fantastic prep cook to be great and another be mediocre because the prep cook is only mediocre. That’s why most chains don’t make their own sauces or soups; one restaurant in the concept just couldn’tget the sauces or soups right and because that one location wasn’t as good, all of them had to go to pre-made, cryovacked soups, that come out of the bag and go into the kettle.
I’d rather take my chances on a local independent or small chain than go to even PF Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, McCormick & Schmick’s. All of those use high quality ingredients, do a decent job, but could be fantastic if consistency wasn’t so freaking important. I’d almost rather eat an awful meal that was obviously home-cooked than a mediocre meal that was "Open the cryovac, throw it on the grill, slap it on a plate."
That’s why I’m not as bothered by the chain groceries and department stores. The products they sell (for the most part) come out of the cases they were delivered in, go on a shelf, go into my cart and onto my shelves. There’s little manipulation to them – I get the same moisturizer whether I buy it at Giant Eagle, Walgreen’s, Target, or the Shur-Save near me. (I won’t buy it at Wal-Mart even though they’d be cheapest; I don’t shop there.) When possible I’ll go to that Shur-Save since it’s owned by a neighbor, even if it’s a few pennies more per item, but I won’t buy produce from him. The produce is crap compared to Giant Eagle… He can’t afford to buy the same quality stuff the larger chain can buy…
For me it’s the quality. If a chain restaurant supercedes the consistency pothole (and there are a few that do) I’m happy to eat there. But if the food is mediocre, what’s the point? I’m not as politically opposed as many of the other "chain haters" but I don’t particularly like them either. I’ve seen the wrong side of a restaurant becoming a chain and it’s not pretty.